New Castle News

March 17, 2012

John K. Manna: New city councilman will participate in big vote

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle City Council finally has a full complement of members.

On Wednesday, council appointed Thomas B. Smith as the fifth member, filling a vacancy that has existed for the last 2 1/2 months.

The vacancy was created by the election of Gary Mitchell, who earlier this month the court ruled ineligible to serve because of felony convictions on his record.

As borough manager of Seven Fields in Butler County and his previous experience in county government, Smith brings a unique perspective to council.

But what he also brings is a fifth vote that has been missing since the beginning of the year, a vote that obviously will break a tie. That is, when all members are present.

His appointment comes just in time perhaps for a vote on who, if anyone, should be given more than a million taxpayer dollars to develop the Cascade Center at the Riverplex, which has been vacant the last few years. I say perhaps because no timetable has been established as to when a decision may be made.

Plus, the city is reportedly about to receive another proposal — from attorney Paul Lynch.

The two proposals that have been presented to council so far offer different ideas as to what should be done with the building at the corner of Mill and East Washington streets. One wants to establish the New Castle Arts and Technology Center at the site, which it says would not only bring jobs, but also train for jobs.

The other, the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp., proposes a commercial development, and says it has a prospect that would bring 50 to 100 jobs to the city.

Both developers are seeking the money from the city to buy the building. Thus, their plans are contingent on getting the money, which is basically the remainder of a $5 million state grant. In other words, the city has no guarantee either idea will pan out.

How council decides on which proposal to choose may depend on each member’s perspective of what the building should be and the potential each proposal has for success on its own, and in creating a ripple effect in the downtown.

There is no way to know what effect any of the proposals will have in the long term, but city officials can establish some safeguards for the short term. Such as setting a deadline for development to begin and placing restrictions on how and when the funds can be released.

These are just two ideas, but they’ll provide some level of protection for the city.